Chinese wind turbines
Greenpeace

Wind energy could supply up to 19% of the world’s electricity by 2030 – if the world implements policies to limit emissions, according to a new report from GWEC, Greenpeace and the German Aerospace Centre.

The report finds China is likely to dominate wind power, increasing output by five times between now and 2030.

In addition to policy measures, the projections include continuing falls in the cost of wind power and advances in technology.

The Global Wind Energy Outlook compares three scenarios for the wind energy sector: the IEA’s conservative New Policies projection, a ‘Moderate’ improvement in wind energy investment and output, and an ‘Advanced’ scenario in which further resources are committed.

According to the ‘Advanced’ scenario, in which annual investment is double that of the IEA’s projected €50 billion, the wind energy sector can represent up to 9% of the global energy mix by 2020, and 19% ten years later.

The ‘Moderate’ scenario, which the report claims is still “not in line with what would be required to meet agreed climate protection goals,” sees wind energy contribute around 8% by the end of the decade, and up to 14.5% by 2030.

The original IEA projection, which acts as a baseline for this analysis, has wind energy output double in next six years to reach up to 6.7%. It, however, forecasts reduced investment and growth slowdown in the 2020’s leading to a 2030 global contribution of little more than 9%.

As for emissions reductions, to which existing wind power plants currently provide 372 million tonnes, the IEA sees 1.5 billion tonnes by 2030, the ‘Moderate’ GWEO scenario sees 2.3 billion, and the ‘Advanced’ scenario would result in an annual reduction of 3.1 billion.

Installations, investments, improvement

The GWEO report says its near-future projections have a solid foundation, but that beyond 2018 there are a number of uncertainties.

The scenarios were designed under the assumptions of wider global uptake of wind energy, driven largely by declining costs and improving efficiency, as well as international climate agreements.

Europe’s wind energy sector, for instance, will be shaped significantly by what is agreed at the Paris climate summit in December 2015.

It’s up-to-2030 projections did not account for the probable improvements in turbine technology, using the average size of 2013 installation – 1.93 MW – and the current average capacity factor of 28%.

The gains in the coming years are from the number of turbines the GWEO expects. 318 GW was added in 2013, 45 GW is expected in 2014, and by 2020 the GWEO scenarios have the world adding between 712 and 800 GW per year. That could reach up to 2000 GW by 2030, according to the ‘Advanced’ scenario, although the IEA forecasts only a yearly addition of 964 GW.

For these proposed installations, investment is a must. The IEA expects €50 billion to be spent per year by 2020, and a decrease to €41 billion by 2030.

The GWEO scenarios require more money than that, with the ‘Moderate’ needing an annual €80 billion by 2020, and an increase to €102 billion by 2030.

The ‘Advanced’ scenario will need €141 billion, but that’s only a fraction of the €530 billion the IEA thinks the world will be spending on energy around that time.

GWEO argues that in terms of the amount spend on the global power industry, that figure is good bang for your buck. For providing around 20% of the world’s electricity, the wind sector is given 26% of the investment.

Emissions, and feasibility

As touched on before, the uptake of wind energy serves the reduction of CO2 emissions. Wind power plants already cut 372 million tonnes a year, and under all three scenarios will vastly improve upon that figure.

But where the IEA New Policies expects 899 million tonnes reduction by 2020 and 1.52 billion by 2030, the GWEO see potential for that number to double.

The ‘Moderate’ scenario sees a moderate increase: 1 billion tonnes in 2020 and 2.3 billion tonnes in 2030.

The ‘Advanced’ scenario forecasts a vast increase in wind power-driven emissions reduction in the 2020s, from 1.2 billion tonnes at the beginning of the decade and 3.1 a year by the end.

Now the other question is whether the GWEO forecasts are at all feasible. It all depends on how much is done, and where it is done. Up until 2020, much of the gains in wind power generation will come from Europe and North America.

In the tail end of the decade, and into the 2020s, China could become a real wind power-house. The country’s economic planner, the National Development and Reform Commission, has targeted 20% of the China’s electricity by 2020 to be supplied by wind. IEA estimates indicate the country will almost triple its output by 2030, and the GWEO projections say it’ll be more like 5x, ending the period around the 500 GW mark.

On the other hand, Greenpeace East Asia fears near-term growth may suffer for tariff reduction, premium payment delays, and, most importantly, the absence of policies and incentives.

Africa will also look to get involved in wind, but its energy infrastructure won’t have developed until well into the 2020’s. From near-to-nothing now and for a while, Africa could deliver anywhere between 10 GW and 90 GW by 2030 depending on investment.

The FT observed that the economics of wind power are improving, with its unsubsidised cost now cheaper (sometimes) than $37 per MWh – that’s less than half what it was five years ago.

If that trend continues then considerable wind energy growth is indeed possible. The number of turbines installed over the last eight years is up by over 400%, with the ‘Advanced’ scenario suggesting a further 529% growth in the 17 years after 2013.

Since wind energy began its consistent ascent 18 years ago, it has seen an average of 26% annual growth. And there are encouraging signs, including last week’s breakthrough in the UK.

On Sunday October 19 wind energy supplied 24% of the UK’s energy, that’s 5% more than even the most ambitious global target for 20 years from now.

But the report is clear that this sort of forecast is predicated on significant global investment and widespread political will.

Raw data

So the top half wasn’t just a festival of numbers, I kept it to %. If you’re interested in the raw energy generation stats. Here are they are bullet-pointed:

Energy demand

  • 20k TWh today
  • 24kTWh in 2020
  • 30k TWh in 2030

Overall Wind contribution

  • IEA New Policies
    • 1,500 TWh Wind Energy by 2020 (6.2 – 6.7% share)
    • 2535 TWh by 2030 (8.4 to 9.4%)
  • ‘Moderate’ GWEO
    • 1750 TWh Wind Energy by 2020 (7.2 – 7.8%)
    • 3900 TWh in 2030 (12.9 -14.5%)
  • ‘Advanced’ GWEO
    • 1950 TWh Wind Energy by 2020 (8.1 – 8.8%)
    • 5,000 in 2030 (16.8 – 18.9%)

Wind Turbine Installations

  • IEA New Policies
    • 611 GW per year by 2020
    • 964 GW per year by 2030
  • ‘Moderate’ GWEO
    • 712 GW per year by 2020
    • 1500 GW per year by 2030
  • ‘Advanced’ GWEO
    • 800 GW per year by 2020
    • 2000 GW per year by 2030